Mind and Body Connection: The Power of Our Thoughts
Posted by Allie on 16th August 2015
We may find that we're not enjoying optimal health for a variety of reasons including the foods we chose to eat, the activities and exercise we do, and our environment. There is an increasing body of research showing that emotions also play a big role in our health. Being diagnosed with a chronic health condition, such as PCOS, can stir a variety of emotions - anxiety about a diagnosis, fear of what the future holds, or maybe anger at having these health problems in the first place thinking, "Why me?" These can be normal reactions to a challenging and often uncertain situation.
We have all experienced stress at some point in our lives. Our bodies can tolerate small amounts of stress, it's actually our bodies way of protecting us. Think of the 'fight or flight' response which helps us to be alert and energetic when threatened, such as in a dangerous situation. Our bodies try to maintain its equilibrium in response to this danger and triggers physical and biochemical responses which impacts numerous systems in our body to get ready for action.
However, our modern lifestyles don't call for us to utilise our 'fight or flight' responses for survival like in prehistoric times. Despite thankfully not needing to run from cheetahs on a daily basis, we're still triggering this stress response when, for example, we stop at a red light when we're running late or need to pay off that huge credit card bill. High and consistent levels of stress is bad news - not only can you end up irritable, tired, neglecting yourself and others, getting a cold or all of the above, the long term effects on our body are detrimental. Feeling fearful for a sustained period of time releases a stream of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can lead to health problems including depression and weight gain. In fact, numerous health conditions have been linked to stress including heart disease, stroke, immune system disturbances, and skin problems.
It seems then that our emotional health, our thought patterns and behaviours play a vital role in our health and wellbeing. In their book, 'All is Well', authors Louise Hay and Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz explain how different organs and systems in the body are linked to certain emotions. We've already seen how chronic stress can lead to illness but did you know that feelings of guilt and fear are thought to be linked with menstrual problems and that ovaries are linked to our sense of creativity? The authors propose that if these emotions are imbalanced over a long period of time they can contribute to physical illness in associated areas of the body and that we need balance in all areas of our lives to achieve optimal health.
What are some ways to optimise our emotional wellbeing and long term health?
Learn to become more present: When you're feeling stressed, you may be coming from a place of anger or frustration, and you can end up feeling stuck in a negative thought pattern. Accepting stress for what it is can help ground you in the present moment, which makes sense when you think about it - in moments of stress we tend to be thinking about something in the future, "I have so much to do, I'm going to be late, why is this happening to me?" Accept your stress and recognise that this is what is happening now. In a moment of anger, stress or any other negative emotion, take a step back and recognise what it is you're feeling. Focus on the present moment - not how you'll feel about something in the future or fixating on the past but on what is happening right now.
Express gratitude. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude is linked with higher levels of emotional wellbeing. A journal is one way to express gratitude - try writing down 3 things that you are grateful for before you go to sleep or when you wake up in the morning. It can totally change your mindset and attitude! Expressing gratitude will encourage you to look at situations and experiences from a more positive perspective.
"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful." Buddha
Affirmations & positive thinking: Take control. You can't control other people or some situations but you can choose how you respond to those things. You can choose to get stressed or overwhelmed by something or you can choose to acknowledge what is happening right at this moment and consider your response. It may be helpful to direct your thoughts to something else or remove yourself from the situation. Try to look for something positive in an experience and ask yourself, "What has this taught me?"
Affirmations are basically everything you say and think. Positive affirmations are one way to work on changing negative thought patterns. Using positive affirmations is a way to encourage a healthier, more positive mindset and attracting the things you want in your life by repeating positive statements in the present tense to yourself often. Read more about how positive affirmations work here and those updated regularly on Positive PCOS.
Thinking positively 100% of the time is, of course, not realistic and being able to experience a range of emotions is normal! Certain negative emotions, such as sadness, can be healthy responses to a challenging situation or one you did not want to be in and putting pressure on yourself to be positive all the time is not the point of using positive affirmations. Try to introduce positive affirmations in to your life and see what a difference makes. Repeat and believe in your positive affirmations - it takes practice but the more you do it, the more it will become part of your life.
Breathe. So simple and yet, in stressful times, we tend to adopt shallow and rapid breaths instead of deep and conscious ones. Bring it back to your breath! There are numerous research studies supporting the benefits of regular meditation.
Build strong social relationships: Having meaningful social relationships and spending time with friends, families or partners, has been shown to be vital for happiness. Do you spend enough time with loved ones? Do you feel you make adequate time for relationships in your life?
Take care of yourself. Treat yourself as a priority, it will do your confidence and mindset wonders! For example, eat well and provide your body with the nutrients it requires, spend time doing the things you enjoy and make you feel good, exercise. Research shows the positive impact exercise has on self-esteem, sleep and lowering stress levels. The key is to get moving! Taking the stairs instead of lifts, parking the car further away from the shop than usual, walking when you can - there are endless ways to incorporate exercise into your life and for it to be fun rather than a chore! For more information and tips, read about PCOS & the importance of exercise.